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CloudThere is something about clouds that brings the term into our daily lives. We say "it is a cloudy day", or "there is not a cloud in the sky", or if we feel especially elated or happy we might say "I feel like I am on cloud nine". Now days many are talking about "cloud computing".
In the early days of the Internet we thought of it as a discrete collection of specialized computers called routers which moved packets of ones and zeroes between origin and destination, plus other computers called servers which contained emails and web pages, and the networking infrastructure including telephone wires, modems, and various networking devices such as hubs and switches that loosely tied everything together. Users of the Internet today that are not aware of the technical history — which is the vast majority of the world’s billion + users — know the Internet for it’s most popular application, the World Wide Web. In a sense, the web is a "place" that contains all of the information and applications that we want to use.
In more recent years the larger web application providers, such as Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo!, and others have begun to refer to their infrastructure as "clouds". If you create a spreadsheet at Google Docs and then save it, where is it actually saved? In the Google "cloud". We don’t know where it really is — it is just "there" at http://docs.google.com — in the "cloud". There are many millions of servers on the Internet but to most people there may as well just be one. That is the beauty of the Internet — you don’t have to know what the infrastructure is.
Even startup companies these days often do not bother with the details of their Internet infrastructure. Many of them use the Amazon cloud. The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (aka Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides "resizable" compute capacity in the cloud. For storage, many companies use the Amazon Simple Storage Service (aka Amazon S3) to enable storage in the cloud. The advent of cloud computing has made it possible for startup companies to get from new business idea to a full implementation of their idea in weeks instead of months.
Great for smaller companies but what the really big companies like GE, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Bank of America, BP, or Toyota? How about when they have a new web-based idea? How do they deploy it? Generally speaking it takes a lot of detailed planning. The project manager has to specify exactly what resource is needed — a very specific computing capacity and well defined storage. In many cases it is difficult to be precise when an idea is new. They could use Google or Amazon but chances are they would prefer to have their own cloud. The large companies of the world have vast computing resources and skills and they also have a desire to keep things inside their own tent for various security and intellectual property reasons. Enter IBM and their new plans for "Blue Cloud".
“Blue Cloud” is a series of cloud computing offerings that will allow corporate data centers to operate more like the Internet startup companies by enabling computing across a distributed, globally accessible fabric of resources, rather than today’s predominantly local machines or remote server farms. Blue Cloud technology will make it possible to have the computing resource and storage be specified in "virtual" terms and the cloud will do the provisioning in an automated manner using virtual resources. Underneath the cloud there are real resources but the cloud computing environment manages them in an autonomic way. That means that the cloud responds somewhat like the human body. When we cold we shiver to warm up. When we get hot we sweat to cool down. In a similar fashion, the Blue Cloud will automatically add computing resources and storage on demand and when something breaks the cloud will provide alternate paths to keep things running. The project is based on open standards and open source software supported by IBM’s hardware, software, and services businesses. More than 200 IBM researchers have been assigned to the project and the company expects it’s first Blue Cloud offerings to be available to customers in the spring of 2008. The Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology announced a cloud computing project with IBM this month and many more are expected..
Blue Cloud will not replace the computing infrastructure of the world’s enterprises any time soon but over time, this new approach to IT should dramatically reduce the complexity and costs of managing new Internet projects. Ultimately, most computing may be done in the clouds and billions of people will be interacting with data and applications with handheld devices that will be more powerful than the supercomputers of just a few years ago.